Saturday, 20 May 2017

Grey Scale #1: Keeping Clothes Clean Over The Years

Here is a new series that is going to speak about the things that are in blind spots of a common man. Through this, I am trying to bring out facts about people, place, culture or anything that is in grey area and left unexplored from places I visit, people I meet and things I get to know. This is going to be written under the banner 'Grey-Scale' from now on. And, to start with, I have penned about a grey area in my home-town Trichy. Hope I can make justice to this series.

Grey-Scale #1

Keeping Clothes Clean Over The Years  

When you arrive in cities like Chennai or Tirunelveli and ask someone to direct you towards Vannarpettai, you can see that, even Chennaiites from the recently made over South Chennai too can easily direct you to this traditional North 'Madras' neighbourhood and same is in the case of Tirunelveli too.

But, when you come down here to Trichy, it is very hard to even find someone in town who knows that the city has a Vannarpettai in its urban limits and that too for over a one and a half century.

Spread across a 200 acre tiny land strip behind the present Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital's estate, Vannarapettai which is situated along the Northern banks of the historic Uyyakondan canal, is a shelter for over 300 families who are still involving in washing business but in the verge of its extinction.

I had visited this place a couple of times when I was in Trichy. Once I had an opportunity to interact with a resident of Vannarapettai, who also is a last generation washer man in a century old tradition from whom I got to know a little about the place. Here is an abstract of that.

"My grand-old grandees came here about 150 years ago. There were as many as 16 families who were the first generation who resided here at that time. It was during the reign of Queen Mangamma in the fort of Sirappalli, she saw our ancestors suffering due to poverty and donated them a 16 acre land at the rate of one acre per family", Ramesh a resident of Vannarapettai briefed me about the place's history.

Photo: MK Ashok Kumar
Ramesh sustained that till now they have been holding their profession of washing as a tradition.

"Me along with my brother are involved in washing business for fourty years now, but our successive generation will be off from washing as we have sent them to pursue graduations in medicine and engineering", said the proud Ramesh.

Ramesh was keep on speaking in his proudest tone that his post generation era would be free from washing business and will be working in a corporate world with all facilities available at their door step.

When I asked him about the social status of the people of this age, comparing to the olden days, Ramesh said, "When our ancestors came here, they were so independent and were washing the clothes of the officials of queen's dharbar and the soldiers. But, later they were treated as slaves after the fort was conquered by the Britishers. Again we are free now for 70 years in independent India and we are given all rights in all areas".

However, the locality and its residents seemed to be economically weaker which Ramesh seconded that when compared to his predecessors, the present generation is struggling a lot to fill the pockets and in turn their tummy.

Photo: MK Ashok Kumar
He further elaborated on their economic status. "In olden days our society had customers from all over the city but now we have limited customers only", Ramesh expressed with grief and continued saying that "Most of the clothes you see here are the bed spreads and blankets which are used in the city's Government hospital and those residential hotels in and around the Central Bus Terminal. These are the only two sources of income for all 200 families here". Saying this, Ramesh pointed out an array of dark green bed spreads (probably from a hospital) hanging in the burning sun, after wash.

Ramesh also said, "My daily income will be around Rs 500 to Rs 800 and most of the amount will be invested for resources needed for the next day's work".

From his words, all I could read from the place was, Ramesh is model of all 1200 residents of Trichy's Vannarapettai, who are in the final generation of washing business. All families have sent their next generation youngsters to become engineers, doctors and all other so called respected professions. The washing business will end up here with their generation, according to him.

The voice of Ramesh was so boastful as the 'washer-man' identity of Vannarpettai(Washermanpet) will be resting only on the neighbourhood's name in the future, but not on their Generation-X.

 - Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, May 20, 2017

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